Nearly two years after Yosemite killings, handyman faces murder charges

FRESNO, Calif. - Nearly two years after Carole Sund, her daughter and a friend disappeared on a trip to Yosemite National Park, motel handyman Cary Stayner is about to face charges in their killings.

Stayner, who wept as he apologized last week in federal court for killing a Yosemite naturalist, is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Mariposa Superior Court.

Stayner, 39, is charged with murdering the three tourists after binding them with duct tape and gagging them in their room at the Cedar Lodge, a rustic motel where he worked just outside the park's western gate.

While Stayner's life was spared in a plea deal with federal prosecutors in the death of Joie Armstrong, state prosecutors haven't announced whether they will seek the death penalty in the killings of Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli, 15, and Silvina Pelosso, 16.

In a confession to authorities, Stayner said he knocked on the door of their room on the night of Feb. 15, 1999, and said he had to fix a leak, law enforcement sources told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Once inside, he pulled a pistol and told the women to lie face down on their beds.

He strangled Carole Sund, 42, and Pelosso, 16, in the motel room. He put the bodies in the trunk and Juli, 15, in the passenger seat of their rental car and drove to a remote reservoir where he slashed Juli's throat as she begged for death, pointing her forefinger and thumb at her temple like a gun and ''pulling'' the trigger.

Family members reported the women missing after they failed to rendezvous at the San Francisco airport the next day, prompting a massive FBI manhunt in the rugged Sierra and rolling foothills outside the park.

It was more than a month later that the burned-out rental car was found abandoned along a logging road and the remains of Carole Sund and Pelosso were found in the trunk. A week later, the body of Juli Sund was found near Don Pedro reservoir.

As authorities began rounding up suspects from the methamphetamine underworld and a federal grand jury in Fresno began hearing evidence, Stayner remained free of suspicion. He even helped authorities gather evidence.

It wasn't until Armstrong, a 26-year-old nature guide, was beheaded near her cabin in the park in July 1999 that officers closed in on Stayner. He was apprehended three days later and admitted he killed all four women.

In apologizing in federal court at his sentencing, a sobbing Stayner said he couldn't explain his actions but offered insight into the mind of a killer.

''I gave in to the terrible dark dreams that I tried to subdue,'' he said. ''The craziness that lurked in my mind for as long as I can remember became a reality in this terrible crime.''

The Sund/Pelosso case has languished as federal prosecutors pressed their murder case. That case was held in U.S. District Court because Armstrong was killed in a national park.

In the deal struck with prosecutors and approved by Armstrong's family, Stayner will spend the rest of his life behind bars - but he avoided a possible death sentence.

That could change if Mariposa County prosecutors proceed with a capital case on three counts of murder with five special circumstances, including multiple murder and felony murder charges for killing someone during a burglary and an attempted rape.

Stayner is being held without bail in his own cell at the Mariposa County jail.

His first appearance in state court is expected to be brief as Judge Thomas C. Hastings, a Santa Clara County judge who presided over the high-profile Polly Klaas murder trial, reads him the charges.

Jens Sund, the husband of Carole and father of Juli, is expected to be in court with his brother and sister, according to Kim Petersen, executive director of the reward foundation set up in Carole Sund's name.

Stayner's father said he also would be there. While he empathizes with the victims he still can't believe his son is a killer.

''I feel sorry for them people, I know what it's like to lose a child,'' Delbert Stayner said Tuesday, referring to his son, Steven, who was abducted for seven years and then became a hero when he escaped. Steven Stayner later died in a motorcycle accident.

''And now I've lost another one. Maybe he's not dead but he's in prison and that means we can never have Cary home for Christmas or Thanksgiving or anything like that. If he had been a mean person, hard to get along with, I'd think differently,'' the elder Stayner said. ''But he loves his parents very much and we love him very much.''


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